Arts & Entertainment

Summer Stock Stage co-founder Emily Ristine Holloway leads ‘artists inspiring artists’

June 2, 2017

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Eclipse, a new emerging artists’ program of Summer Stock Stage presents “Spring Awakening,” an angst-ridden coming of age rock musical which opened Thursday and runs through June 18 at IndyFringe Basile Theatre.  An outgrowth of Summer Stock Stage’s main stage program which focuses on high school performers, ages 13-19, Eclipse provides paid performing opportunities for young professionals and college students from central Indiana.

Co-founded by Emily Ristine Holloway, artistic director and Jeanne Bowling, Summer Stock Stage formed Eclipse to present challenging musical theater productions with edgy and emerging work and artists, to Central Indiana audiences. The group will feature performers who are alumni of Summer Stock Stage in college and older, whose talent has been fostered by Summer Stock Stage for the past 14 years.

Holloway has directed 30 musicals during her tenure as Summer Stock Stage’s artistic director and directed “Spring Awakening.” She will next direct “Aladdin, Jr.” (June 21-25 at Park Tudor School). An Indy native, Holloway works as a professional actor and does extensive voiceover work.  Next fall she will play Helen in “Fun Home” at the Phoenix Theatre.

Recently, I spoke by phone with Holloway who was taking a break at IndyFringe Basile Theatre on load-in day for “Spring Awakening.”

Emily Ristine Holloway – Courtesy of Summer Stock Stage. Used by permission.

How did Eclipse come about?

A few years ago, when I worked with Bryan Fonseca on “American Idiot.” Indy did not have a lot of young professional actors to carry that show, so the theatre used me as a resource to cast younger performers but eventually he hired the entire Summer Stock Stage team. Mariel (Greenlee) and Cherri (Jaffee) were the choreographers. Jeanne Bowling music directed it and I assistant directed it. We built the entire cast with almost all Summer Stock Stage alum. It was such an exhilarating experience for us to reconnect with them and to continue to see how much they had grown in their art and just to hear from them how much Summer Stock had enriched them. I went to the board that fall and said “we want to do this. We want to continue producing shows. I think there is a place in the professional landscape of Indianapolis and there is a hole we can fill. We have young audiences and young performers so these are things we are not seeing enough of in Indy right now. We started fund raising because the model we use for Summer Stock Stage, using space that has been donated and actors who are volunteers, doesn’t work when produce professional theatre. You have to rent your space and you have to pay your actors. So, it has meant cultivating lots of gifts, meeting with people and talking about my vision. We have had a lot generous people who supported us and who think this is a great idea. Now it is about ticket sales and making sure we have an audience. I am hopeful that we do have an audience and that we can sustain something like this and we can continue to move forward with this new production company.

I can’t think of a more ideal show than “Spring Awakening” for Eclipse’s debut.

It’s such a perfect fit for the age of our alumni and it is great that I have Constance (Macy) and Chuck (Goad), in the cast, which is just amazing. They are such professionals and an inspiration to our younger performers so the show works super well. There was such a beautiful production at the Phoenix in 2011 so it has been long enough now for people to either discover it for the first time or see it again.

Are all the performers theatre students?

All of them are pursuing theatre one way or another and all of them are Summer Stock Stage Alumni. For many of them, this is their first professional theatre gig. Some are doing BFAs in musical theatre, some are just studying theatre as a major. Others are studying something else but hoping to work in theatre as well. All of them are aspiring. Actually, they are not just aspiring. They are real artists. They are remarkable.

What is the range of cast member’s ages?

“Spring Awakening” characters are between 14 and 17. The oldest cast member we have is 22 and a recent college graduate. Most of our cast are in college and all participated in Summer Stock Stage the last five seasons.

“Spring Awakening” cast. Courtesy of Zach Rosing. Used by permission.

Are cast members are from all over Indiana?

We have 40 plus high schools represented every season very consistently which is amazing. Because we only have 85 students each season it is really remarkable that they come from 40 high schools and that doesn’t even account for our younger academy students. When they go to college, I see that they are having these great experiences like Wagon Wheel Playhouse (Warsaw, Indiana) and theatres all over the country. We have worked so hard to cultivate their talent and cultivate an audience for them. I have worked with some of them for four, five and even six summers so I want to continue to see how they are growing in their art and Indianapolis audiences do too.

Why did you happen to choose IndyFringe Basile Theatre as the venue to present the show?

Well we looked at a few different spaces and it was the best fit for this particular show and the time we were doing it. It seats 100 so we felt that was a good place to start as far as not being to overly ambitious. It is a cool, hip show and it is a cool, hip part of town so I think it is a good fit.

Is “Spring Awakening” timeless?

It really is. It has been great to just do the table work with the young actors and to talk about it. You know it was a banned book in 1891 in Germany when it was written. It is about topics that everybody experiences but are difficult to talk about. We are doing a sensitive production of it so I think the audience will be more willing to have these awkward conversations with young people because they are so important. I think it is ok if they are awkward because it is necessary to be open about the issues that surround puberty and sexuality and all those things.

How has Constance and Chuck’s involvement benefited your young actors?

I feel like Constance and Chuck can’t really appreciate what an amazing opportunity it is for these young people to perform with them and to just have them in the room. They set a standard and a professionalism which shapes our student’s entire experience. It has just been fantastic working on the show with them.

You are in your 14th season, right?

I started this because there wasn’t a graduate program I could go to in Indianapolis. I just wanted to learn and do more and Park Tudor was so generous. They just said yes when I asked but it has exceeded even my expectations. I sometimes think of the line in“Field of Dreams” movie when they say “Build it and they will come.” I notice that every year when we have auditions. I am just so surprised how many young people there are who want to spend their summer with us. It’s sterling. One of the tag lines that we use on our grants is “Artists inspiring artists.” Often it is me who feels inspired.

What is the strength of your brand?

We have had the privilege of having every serious theatre student around participate in Summer Stock Stage at one time or another so I think the brand is strong among the participants. I also feel that audiences are really starting to purchase our tickets because they know our shows are top notch.

Part of Summer Stock Stage’s success can be measured with foundation and donor support. You have an enviable group of financial supporters, don’t you?

Yes, we do. We have a very generous group of people who realize that the arts can change the lives of people.

Are there Summer Stock alums who have gone on to appear on Broadway?

Quite a few. Becca Peterson is on Broadway right now in “Bandstand.”  Cory Lingner is in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” I have students who are doing national tours or working at regional theatres throughout the country, working in film or working towards becoming a college professors of theatre.

That must make you feel good. Do your students stay in touch?

Yes, they do a pretty good job of staying in touch. Yes, it is great. Some of our students go to these really great universities all over and are so generous in helping our high school students by just talking about their experiences.

Summer Stock Stage performers really do represent the future of musical theatre, don’t they?

Totally. I think that some audience members have this idea that just because our performers are young, that they not be a fully formed artists. We don’t come to them with that. We realize that they are completely capable artists from the beginning and then help them to see themselves as we see them. That really helps them to rise to the occasion. All our staff members are professional artists themselves.

What can people expect when they come to see “Spring Awakening?”

We are advertising it for people 16 and up because it is a racy show. We are doing the real show, not a watered-down version.  Cherri and I spent a lot of time pinning down the exact story we felt we wanted to tell in 2017 Indianapolis. It is not like the original 2006 Broadway production. That was an interesting time. We are not doing the concert version with microphones. We are doing a much more vulnerable production. Our cast members are fantastic and just exceptional. The tickets are $15 on opening weekend. It is not that often that you can see this big name of a musical for that price so we are really hoping we can get a lot of people there the first weekend and help spread the word.

“Spring Awakening” Tickets are $15 for opening weekend and $30 for all other performances.  Recommended for ages 16+.  Tickets are available at summerstockstage.com.

 

 

 

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Author

Tom Alvarez

Tom Alvarez is a freelance writer who has covered theater, dance, music and visual art for over 40 years. He has written for the Indianapolis Star, NUVO Newsweekly, Indianapolis Monthly, Arts Indiana and Examiner.com. Tom appears regularly as a contributor on WISH-Channel 8”s “Indy Style.” Also an actor/model, Tom is represented by the Helen Wells Agency and Heyman Talent Artists Agency.

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